Tag Archives: horror

Ghost Stories – Arts Theatre

I jumped.  And I screamed.

It was a completely involuntary scream, caused entirely by something I wasn’t expecting to happen.  A bit embarrassing when you realise no one else seems to have screamed at that point.  But I’m the type who jumps at mundane stuff like someone bursting through a door when I’m about to open it.  For writers Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman (The League of Gentlemen), Ghost Stories is a big exercise in misdirection and springing stuff on you when you’re not ready for it.  The “well that made me jump, but I wouldn’t really call it sc- BWAAAAAAAGGHHHH!!” effect.

The back of my programme says: “Ladies and gentlemen.  Please, keep the secrets of Ghost Stories.  Thank you and sleep well…” which does rather limit what I can tell you.  But I’ll write what I can without giving anything away.  In some ways, the show starts the minute you step through the door: sound effects play throughout the foyer bar – not the haunted house cliches of creaky doors or ghosty howls, but unsettling sounds.  Scuttling.  Rats?  Cockroaches?  The crackle of static electricity?  Dripping.  Echoey dripping.  And other noises – but you can’t quite pinpoint what they are or why they feel unpleasant.

The show itself is a collection of stories interspersed with mini-lectures on the psychology behind being scared, all engagingly delivered by Paul Kemp as Professor Goodman – he seems to relish the details in his examples, all with a hint of condescension.  We dart back and forth between rational explanations for things and the theatricality of fear.  With each tale, you relax into the story – there is the determination to “not be scared” because “it’s only a play”.  But the irrational side of the brain takes over at little things, like being aware of something moving about in the dark and not wanting it to jump out at you.  Sometimes it does – sometimes something else catches you off guard.

Each story seems to toy with the concept of being alone somewhere – usually in the dark.  Simon Holmes as The Nightwatchman is suitably gruff and no-nonsense, the sort of man who shouldn’t be afraid of the dark.  Chris Levens as Simon Rifkind is simpering and reluctant, a victim of a lie that spiralled out of control.  Gary Shelford as the odiously pompous banker with more Mercedes than sense.  All 3 stories have an element of the mind playing tricks on you and not wanting to believe you could be so easily frightened, which helps to slowly build up the suspense.  Very slowly.

The lighting is used to great effect to both set a scene and to hide things from you until the right moment, or to give you enough of a glimpse of something to heighten your nerves.  As a lover of the immersive, I was also glad of the addition of ‘scent effects’.  Smell is a very under-used sense in theatre, but in small auditoriums, it works well.  It’s amazing how a sudden waft of TCP can really add to a scene.  It was interesting to hear the reactions of the other audience around me – different things scare different people.  The things I had managed to anticipate had other people reeling in terror and vice versa.  But my pre-empting did sometimes take so much of the edge off that I wondered if the timing was out – a split second earlier and they would’ve had me.  Again.

I liked it.  In a scare-the-crap-out-of myself kind of way.  But I get the impression that you have to be in the middle of the scare-ability spectrum to get the best from this show.  Too easily scared and you’ll be so traumatised that you won’t sleep for 3 days.  Too psychologically distanced and you’ll moan that it wasn’t that scary.  If you’re prepared to allow the show to have the desired effect, it’s an absolute scream.

Ghost Stories is playing until Sunday 15th March 2015 at the Arts Theatre, 6-7 Great Newport Street, Leicester Square, London, WC2H 7JB.  Not suitable for under 15s.  People of a nervous disposition are urged to consider carefully before booking.  For tickets and more information go to http://www.ghoststoriestheshow.co.uk/

Let The Right One In – Apollo Theatre

I was sitting in a pub with friends when one of them suddenly announced that news was coming in that the ceiling had collapsed at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue during a performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. A horrible thought then as it is now. But after closing, undergoing stringent investigation and refurbishment, the Apollo is open for business. Judging by the full house at this evening’s performance, people aren’t worried about a repeat of that terrible night.

So there is something bittersweet in that the set designer has chosen to make a feature of the flat ceiling (hiding the renovation works) and painted it to resemble the night sky, as though you were looking up through the barren, leafless trees at the giant full moon which dominates the centre. The best view of this is definitely from the front row of the Grand Circle. It is stark, haunting and beautiful, perfectly complementing the cluster of tree trunks that occupy half of the snowdusted stage.

Based on the 2004 novel of the same title by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let The Right One In tells the story of Oskar, a teenage boy being bullied at school. When Eli, a girl who is not all she seems, moves in next door, the two outcasts tentatively strike up an awkward friendship. There has been string of murders in the local woods and Oskar slowly discovers the disturbing truth; Eli is centuries old and requires a diet of blood to survive (although she’s uncomfortable with being labelled a vampire). If he pushes her away, she may kill him – if he lets her in, she may still kill him.  It had me absolutely spellbound from beginning to end.

Rebecca Benson creates a very fragile, wounded Eli. It’s never really explained how she came to be like this – just that she has been this way for a very long time. She visibly and vocally weakens as the withdrawl symptoms take hold and when she attacks, it is ferocious, visceral and animalistic – there is something reminiscent of the girl in The Exorcist in her jerky movements.  She abhors the fact that she has to kill to stay alive, but you get the impressions that living victims would be less cooperative about letting someone drink their blood.

The director has very much taken a ‘less is more’ approach to the attacks, in that we are only shown a select few, because horror is not just gore, it is psychological too. There is that satisfyingly tortuous lead up to each attack where, even though you know it’s coming any second now (…ok, any second now…), it still makes you jump out of your skin, then proceeds to be uncompromisingly graphic, violent and bloody.  If you are squeamish, perhaps this isn’t the show for you.

Martin Quinn and Rebecca Benson

Oskar (Martin Quinn) embodies all the embarrassment of puberty and someone who has had so little success in fitting in that he has given up trying. The scenes where he is victimised by the boys at school are deeply unsettling; in some cases, moreso than the attacks.  His guarded nature makes it a little difficult to warm to him straight away, but you could say the same for Eli and the barriers come down slowly as they feel compelled to protect one another.  There is real tenderness in their communication by Morse code when they cannot be together.

The two teenagers are backed up by a strong supporting cast who play a variety of roles and provide some wonderful movement pieces in the transitions between scenes (almost becoming scenes in their own right).  It becomes evident that Hakan (Clive Mendus) is Eli’s protector rather than her father – he may once have been a boy like Oskar who fell in love with her and has helped her ever since, but he has grown old while she remains trapped by youth.  He was not the first and Oskar won’t be the last.  Chilling and thought provoking, I suspect this play is going to trouble my thoughts for a good few days to come.

Let The Right One In is playing until 27th September 2014 at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W1D 7ES.  Suitable for ages 13 and up.  For tickets and more information, go to http://www.right-one-in.com/